Anxiety’s like riding a rollercoaster with the safety bar up.
It can feel like your mind is strapped to the front of a high-speed train that never stops. There is a constant fear and never-ceasing loop of worry playing in your mind. Your heart explodes with adrenaline without warning, your breathing becomes shallow and you often lose the ability to answer basic questions that are directed at you.
While I am grateful that the stigmas surrounding mental health are lifting, it hasn’t made it go away for those of us that suffer from it. It’s made it easier to talk about, which is good news, as sometimes just talking can really help.
Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by feelings of threat, restlessness, irritability, sleep disturbance, and tension, and symptoms such as palpitations, dry mouth, and sweating.Prof Peter Tyrer FMedSci & David Baldwin FRC Psych
The other piece of good news is that you’ve got this. There is light past this season. Hang in there!
I have had numerous extended mental meltdowns over the last 15 years. In different countries at different times of life. Each triggered by different events – job changes, house moves, money worries and relationship challenges.
In terms of diagnosis for my G.A.D (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) I know a few things have caused me to be this way.
One was growing up in a rough residential area as a minority – where violence, or the threat of violence, was not uncommon. The other was growing up without a father figure after my father left when I was 7.
UN-fun fact. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is twice as common in woman as it is in men.
I self-talk to myself regarding the truth of anxiety – that it is just a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s the misfiring of many synapses and other scientific chemical things I don’t fully understand.
This is NOT me. It’s NOT who I am. It’s not how I am defined nor how I will always be. This horrible, frightening, relentless feeling of fear and panic will one-day pass (and it will – I can promise you that from experience!).
Having dealt with it for so long there are many tiny steps I take to get better. Small habits that help me move forward on the path to improvement. I’ll share these here.
A small note for another post but sometimes you might need a big change, to get out of a relationship, move back closer to family, change jobs or find new friends. Everyone is different but the following steps are definitely helpful for everyone.
So, here are 7 things you can do today to help your anxiety, starting right now.
You won’t want to do some of them, because sometimes even people with anxiety can’t motivate themselves. I’ve been there, I get it.
The more you do these the more improvement you will see – you need to retrain your brain so do your very best to make them a daily habit.
Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, sleep is a major contributor to your overall wellbeing. A lack of sleep makes it so much harder for your brain to process life. A research statistic I read on a recent business trip said a lack of sleep can make your brain perform like that of someone 10 years your senior. This essentially means you become cognitively impaired, make worse decisions, feel emotions stronger and generally get grumpy quicker. For someone struggling with anxiety, these are not things you need to encourage.
Being tired decreases your ability to solve problems which, as anyone with anxiety knows, is what you know your brain is doing enough of already. Looping through thoughts and emotions without rest.
Try to avoid screens (iPhones/Tablets/Laptops etc) an hour before bed. Don’t use your phone or devices when you are in bed as this creates an unhealthy emotional connection between your bed and digital activities. Your bed is there for sleep, not social media, world news and memes. It’s there for sleep, rest and peace.
Try to get to bed before 10 pm and get a good full 8 hours whenever possible. If you wake up early it’s better than being up late.
See action #2 below which will help you have a better sleep.
A friend visited the office recently. She is a runner, loves running. Recently she hurt her leg and couldn’t run for a few weeks. When I asked her ‘Are you running again?’ She answered ‘Yes, thank God, it’s way better than the pills for my mental health!’.
She is only one of many people I know who will tell the same story. When they exercise the feel mentally much better. The endorphins created during physical exercise are a wonderful antidote to anxiety.
You might not love the idea, but you want to push yourself to a point where your heart rate is up, for a good period of time. For some that might mean going for a brisk walk in the evening or morning (include a few hills if you can). For others, it might be a 10km run every morning or a long bike ride.
Everyone is different so don’t set unrealistic goals, just keep it at a pace you can maintain and improve on. Choose an activity you enjoy, it doesn’t have to be the gym or running. Try Tennis or Tai Chi?
Who knows with the exercise thing, you might even start to like it. ?
Most of us love coffee…a lot. It’s not just a drink, it’s a social event, a reason to leave your desk, a routine you have built into your life. Caffeine, however, is a silent fuel for exacerbating anxiety. I’m all in for a Latte in the morning but try stopping after that one. You’re blood flow and heart rate are already high enough without pumping a heightening chemical additive into your bloodstream.
Try green tea for a change, or any tea. There are plenty of hot drink alternatives you can wean yourself on to. Try decaf?
4: Grateful Journal
Since being a sufferer of anxiety I’ve realised that I want to enable my kids with tools to help them avoid ever being in my situation. So we do this thing (which you can do on your own) where we say 2 things we are thankful for each night at dinner.
I have other friends who meditate in the mornings and then write in a grateful journal, just a list with a few things they are grateful for to start the day.
Gratefulness has been proven to improve mental wellness in many studies.
Get a nice journal, or do it digitally (something nice about pen and paper though, right?).
It could be you are grateful for the weather, your health, a friend, the smell of your t-shirt this morning. It doesn’t need to be anything world-changing, it just needs to be something that is a positive element in your life.
This needs to be a daily habit, done daily (yup, daily) and doing it at a similar time each day can be helpful to keep the routine.
Set a goal so you stick at it – maybe to do it for a month, after that it should be a habit. You’ll feel the benefits long before then.
One of the classic traits of anxiety is an unconscious change to shallow breathing. Essentially, we panic and our breathing all but stops. Science has proven that breathing correctly can immediately help lower our anxiety levels.
Slow, structured breathing can tell our lizard brain that we’re OK, we’re not going to get eaten. Everything is fine.
There are many ways to do this but my favourite practice is using box breathing. This is how I do it:
- Put your left hand on your stomach and your right hand on your chest. If you are in the office and it’s weird to do this it’s OK to skip it this bit.
- Breathe in deep and count to 4 slowly – your abdomen and left hand should rise – your right hand shouldn’t move. You need to breathe deep into your belly.
- Hold that breath for a slow count of 4.
- Breath out to a count of 4 (6 is even better).
- Hold for 4
Repeat for as long as you feel you need to. A minimum of 4-5 loops is good as a minimum. You could do it for 5 minutes or longer if it helps. I really like doing it lying down but sitting in my chair in the office is also good.
It’s a great immediate ‘in-the-moment’ helper if things are getting intense – like perhaps a work situation with your boss or a conflict with someone at home. It might not make things perfect but you’ll feel better.
Make it a habit, like all these things, and it will become easier to feel the effects from it – your body will become familiar with it and embrace how it feels.
6: Meditation & Mindfulness
When I was a young Christian I was told meditation let the demons in. No wonder I suffer from anxiety! That’s simply not true and if you are in a situation being told that, don’t believe it.
Meditation is a great way to just stop and centre yourself, it doesn’t have to be weird. It helps you focus on the immediate, the now, the present. As anxious people, we spend all our brainpower dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. What we should be doing is living in the now.
Meditation and mindfulness is simply a way to help you do that. Most often it starts with focusing on your breath, nothing weird about that is there? No.
It can be a tricky thing to get used to meditating at first. I always thought I was doing it wrong but it’s actually quite simple, don’t overthink it. The best way to start is by using an app like Headspace or Simple Habit which are available on app stores for Android and iOS.
When your brain is firing like a downed power line frizzing on the motorway, it can be really helpful to give it routine. A lot of anxiety can be caused by change and uncertainty – the more you remove that uncertainty from your day to day, the better it can be.
If your job is irregular, try to build a routine into the rest of your life. Some of these suggestions might sound silly but trust me, they can help. The goal is to take additional decisions out of your day so you can think less and free up some brain space.
- Eat the same meal for breakfast and lunch everyday. e.g. Oatmeal breakfast with a cup of Tea. Sandwiches and water for lunch (change up what’s in the sandwich if you like) etc.
- Walk the same route to work daily, count your steps for fun.
- Exercise at the same time e.g. Monday 8pm, Wednesday 8pm and Saturdays 11am.
- Have a morning routine of making your bed and dealing with your laundry
- Listen to the same radio / news station / podcast every morning and afternoon on your commute.
- Have a fixed wardrobe arranged for each day of the week (mix up which day you wear them perhaps)
- Park in the same car park each day, when you can.
- Watch the same shows at night – shows that don’t make you feel more anxious
Change these things up on good days when you’re feeling up, just to make things interesting. But if it’s a tough day, stick with our routines so things feel familiar and safe.
Some other resources I have found to be good tools that help:
The first book I bought when I had my first major mental breakdown in London was the book The Worry Cure by Robert Leahy. It helped me realise that what I was feeling was common – I wasn’t a total loner. It focuses a lot on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) techniques, which I think are great.
Headspace and Simple Habit are great meditation apps to teach you how to meditate. I 100% recommend these. If you can’t afford them there are free starter lessons on both and Simple Habit has quite a few free meditations always available.
Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World was another good book although I didn’t get all the way through it. I found the aforementioned apps easier to assimilate me into mindfulness. It’s a hugely popular book for people suffering from anxiety so it’s another highly recommended.
There are so many other things I could recommend but I hope these 7 tools help you, or someone else you might think of.
Just know you will get through it, it will pass. It might not be tomorrow or next week but you will get through it. As the saying goes – ‘This too shall pass‘.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite sayings from Mark Twain.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”Mark Twain
Hang in there! You’ve got this!
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